Reylo’s Role in Rendemption – A The Rise of Skywalker Reflection

With The Rise of Skywalker just weeks away, speculation is rampant.  Will Rey turn to the Dark Side?  How the heck could the Emperor have survived the destruction of the second Death Star?  How much of the film do Rey, Finn, and Poe really get to be together?  How will Leia’s character be handled with Carrie Fisher gone?  What role will Luke’s Force ghost play?  Will Anakin return in some form?!?  Of all the questions vexing Star Wars fans, perhaps none are so divisive nor as heatedly debated as the issues of Reylo and Rendemption.  Given the prevalence and the passion for and against each, I wanted to explore them more closely.

Let’s begin by defining our terms, on the off chance you should be reading this and not be familiar with them.

Reylo – the fan-created, easily hashtaggable term for Rey and Kylo Ren falling in love and becoming a couple romantically in Episode IX.  You see, Rey + Kylo Ren = Reylo.

Rendemption – the fan-created, easily hashtaggable term utilized by those who hope Kylo Ren, once Ben Solo, will be redeemed in Episode IX.  So Kylo Ren + Redemption = Rendemption.

The arguments/hopes in favor of “Reylo” traditionally are that Rey and Kylo Ren will fall in love and/or admit the love they’ve had for each other since The Last Jedi and/or the love that they’ve had for each other since The Force Awakens and, as a result of their love, Kylo Ren will renounce the Dark Side, become Ben Solo once more, and join Rey in defeating the Emperor and the First Order.  In so doing, the argument/hope goes, Ben will be redeemed and he and Rey can head off into the sunset to smooch and make Force-sensitive babies forever.

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Kylo Ren takes Rey to see Supreme Leader Snoke aboard Snoke’s flagship The Supremacy. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

Many of the arguments against “Reylo” are anchored in the fact that, if Rey and Kylo Ren are romantically linked, it would be a prime example of an abusive relationship.  This is a point of the utmost importance and, no matter where we fall on the “Reylo” issue, it can’t be overlooked.

Before I go any further, to be clear, this piece will be discussing the nature of abusive relationships in so far as they could be applied to the story we see between these two characters.  As such, it may be triggering.  So I want to be clear about the subject matter and offer fair warning before we proceed.

If Kylo Ren is read as the adversary/villain of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy of Star Wars films, they’ve crafted a brilliant one.  While he’ll never match Darth Vader as an iconic image of evil, he is still insidiously monstrous.  He consistently and willfully rejects the Light, leading the First Order with a near-rabid enthusiasm.  He participates in genocide without flinching and murders his master without hesitation.  And where Vader would cut down his adversaries with brutal efficiency, Ren is trying to break Rey from the inside out – especially in The Last Jedi.  As a monster, Kylo Ren is complex, engaging, and sincerely frightening.

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Kylo Ren interrogates Rey on Starkiller Base. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

But if Kylo Ren becomes Rey’s lover, if they lean into and officially establish a romantic relationship between those two characters, it then becomes an example of an abusive relationship.  Any serious conversation about “Reylo” and “Rendemotion” can’t ignore this and it won’t change just because we may want all our stories to end with happily-ever-after smooching.  Now, just owning the reality of the abusive nature of this relationship isn’t the end of the discussion nor is it necessarily the end of “Rendemption.”  But, before we get there, let’s look at the facts.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s definition reads, “Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”[1]  The National Domestic Violence Hotline uses the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project’s Power & Control Wheel[2] “to describe most accurately what occurs in an abusive relationship.”[3]  The Power & Control Wheel is pictured below.

Kylo Ren, if read romantically, fits the profile of a domestic abuser.  Feelings of inadequacy and a sense of a lack of power are often the root of a man’s abusive behavior.[4]  We see this with Kylo Ren.  He desires to be Darth Vader but fears he will never be as strong as his grandfather.  He is regularly maligned and emasculated by Snoke.  Rey, without any training, can halt his mind-probe and get into his mind as well.  Despite his desire to be monstrous, he still feels the pull of the Light.  What we know of Kylo Ren shows the type of man who is primed, in certain ways, to become an abuser.

If we break the wheel into its component wedges and watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi with these behaviors in mind, we see how many of Kylo Ren’s interactions with Rey fit the established and accepted definition of domestic violence/abuse.  The instances are presented below in the category they correspond to simply in the order they appear in the films.

1)  Using Coercion and Threats – making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her; threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare; making her drop charges; making her do illegal things.

  • When Kylo Ren first speaks to Rey on Takodana he says, “The girl I’ve heard so much about. The droid.  Where is it?” and, while holding her body frozen with the Force, holds his ignited lightsaber blade to her neck.  The threat is clear (TFA).
  • The pain and fear are evident on her face as Ren pushes through her mind in the forest on Takodana (TFA).
  • He tells his stormtroopers to, “Forget the droid. We have what we need,” as he knocks Rey unconscious and literally takes her hostage (TFA).
  • When Rey doesn’t immediately reveal where BB-8 is while she’s in chains on Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren tells her, “You know I can take whatever I want.” He then begins to forcefully invade her mind with the Force with Rey clearly struggling against him (TFA).
  • When Ren tells Rey she’ll give him the map he’s seen in her mind she replies, “I’m not giving you anything.” His response, “We’ll see,” is as much threat as intimidation.  He then proceeds to push further into her mind (TFA).
  • Meeting in the woods as Starkiller Base prepares to fire, Rey looks at Kylo Ren and says, “You’re a monster.” Ren says, “It’s just us now!  Han Solo can’t save you.”  He then begins beating his chest/wound in a violent fashion before throwing Rey, with potentially bone-breaking force, into a tree (TFA).
  • Rey awakens after Kylo Ren injures Finn and the two of them battle violently through the woods of Starkiller Base (TFA).

2)  Using Intimidation – making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures; smashing things; destroying her property; abusing pets; displaying weapons

  • Kylo Ren is always wearing his lightsaber – and often ignites it – so he’s constantly displaying his weapon (TFA/TLJ).
  • He smashes an entire bank of computers when Lieutenant Mitaka tells him they’ve lost BB-8 on Jakku. While this doesn’t directly relate to Rey it is an indication of his behavior and control in regard to his emotions and physical, emotional outbursts (TFA).
  • The very first time Rey encounters Kylo Ren on Takodana, he comes at her with his lightsaber drawn and violently knocking away her blaster bolts (TFA).
  • His entire countenance is meant to intimidate and he uses its power fully on her (TFA).
  • As he interrogates Rey, both before and after he takes his mask off, his posture and facial expressions are meant to intimidate and convey his power in this situation. He touches her without her permission while she is physically restrained (TFA).
  • We have to be conscious of the fact that just because Rey has the strength to overcome her abuser/interrogator on Starkiller Base doesn’t make the behavior any less abusive (TFA).
  • When Kylo Ren returns to find Rey is no longer in her cell he lashes out, destroying the cell. Again, while Rey is not present in the scene it illustrates smashing and destroying things is a part of his emotional response to frustrations and setbacks. (TFA).
  • He lashes out in the elevator, smashing his mask after Snoke mocks him (TLJ).

3)  Using Emotional Abuse – putting her down; making her feel bad about herself; calling her names; making her think she’s crazy; playing mind games; humiliating her; making her feel guilty

  • When Rey awakens on Starkiller Base she asks, “Where are the others?” Kylo Ren responds, “You mean the murders, traitors, and thieves you call friends?”  He is putting her down while making her question/feel insecure about her friends (TFA).
  • Ren goes on to say, “You still want to kill me.” Rey agrees, “That’s what happens when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask.”  He then takes off the mask, revealing his true face to leave her questioning her assumptions about him and leave her unbalanced, another mind game (TFA).
  • While interrogating Rey, Kylo Ren undermines her sense of self from the beginning saying, “Somehow you convinced the droid to show it to you. You – a scavenger” and also leave her disconcerted at his knowledge of her (TFA).
  • As he invades her mind with the Force he opens up her secrets and desires to illustrate his control. Then he coldly reveals her dreams and innermost feelings to show his power over her, “You’re so lonely.  So afraid to leave.  At night, desperate to sleep, you imagine an ocean.  I see it.  I see the island.”  We see Rey crying, fighting back tears as she struggles against her restraints (TFA).
  • While they battle in the woods on Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren has her forced back to the edge of a cliff when he screams at her, “You need a teacher! I can show you the ways of the Force!”  He tries to undercut her courage, power, skill, and sense of self and, in so doing, gain an apprentice/power over her (TFA).
  • In their second shared vision on Ahch-To Rey tells Kylo Ren, “I know everything I need to know about you!” He replies, “You do?  Ah, you do.  You have that look in your eyes, from the forest, when you called me a monster.”  Rey spits back, “You are a monster.”  Ren agrees, “Yes I am.”  You can see she’s thrown.  His admission is unexpected, keeping her off balance, a mind game (TLJ).
  • Their third vision is the shirtless one. Rey asks Kylo Ren to put a shirt on, he ignores her request.  So, while she’s already uncomfortable and emotional he begins to turn the knife about her parents.  Ren says, “Your parents threw you away like garbage.”  “They didn’t,” she protests.  “They did,” he replies, “but you can’t stop needing them.  It’s your greatest weakness.  Looking for them everywhere – in Han Solo, now in Skywalker.”  He’s playing with her vulnerability and feelings, her deepest insecurities (TLJ).
  • Once Rey’s onboard Snoke’s command ship The Supremacy, Kylo Ren handcuffs her and assures her of two things. First, when their hands touched he had a vision that showed her turning to the Dark Side (making her doubt who she is) and second, that he saw who her parents are (dangling the truth she wants most in front of her) (TLJ).

4)  Using Isolation –  controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes; limiting her outside involvement; using jealousy to justify actions

  • Rey awakens on Starkiller Base to find herself literally imprisoned inside a holding cell (TFA).
  • Their fourth vision comes after Rey’s experience in Ahch-To’s underground hall of mirrors. She tells him, “I’ve never felt so alone.”  Kylo Ren replies, “You’re not alone.”  She looks at him and says, “Neither are you.”  He preys on her in her isolation and in her vulnerability, laying the seeds to bring her to him (TLJ).
  • After the battle in Snoke’s throne room Rey tells Kylo Ren, “The fleet! Order them to stop firing, there’s still time to save the fleet!  Ben?”  He tells her, “It’s time to let old things die.    Skywalker.  The Sith.  The Jedi.  The rebels.  Let it all die.  Rey, I want you to join me.  We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy.”  She begs him, “Don’t do this Ben.  Please don’t go this way.”  Angrily he says, “No, no!  You’re still holding on!  LET GO!  Do you want to know the truth about your parents?  Or have you always known?  Have you just hidden it away?  You know the truth.  Say it.  Say it.”  Crying, Rey says, “They were nobody.”  Ren continues, “They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money.  They’re dead, in a pauper’s grave, in the Jakku desert.  You have no place in this story.  You come from nothing.  You’re nothing.  But not to me.  Join me.  Please.”  This is perhaps the most famous exchange, when the abusive relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey is discussed.  It fits the emotional abuse category above too but I’ve chosen to place it here as Ren seeks to isolate, and through that isolation, control Rey  (TLJ).

5)  Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming – making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously; saying the abuse didn’t happen; shifting responsibility for abusive behavior; saying she caused it

  • In the second vision Rey has on Ahch-To that connects her to Kylo Ren, Ren asks of Luke, “Did he tell you what happened? The night I destroyed his temple?  Did he tell you why?”  He begins laying the groundwork that he is not responsible for this actions (TLJ).
  • In the third vision, he returns to this point, “Did he tell you what happened that night?” She replies defiantly, “YES.”  Ren answers, “No.  He had sensed my power, as he senses yours, and he feared it.”  He goes on to narrate a story of Luke standing over him as he sleeps, with his lightsaber ignited and a wild look in his eyes.  When he finishes Rey’s stunned, only able to stammer, “I…uh…” and he says emotionlessly, “Let the past die.  Kill it, if you have to.  That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”  He is making light of/justifying his actions, not taking her concerns about him or the Dark Side seriously, and shifting the responsibility for what he is to Luke while simultaneously saying what he does is justified to become who he’s meant to be (TLJ).

6)  Using Children –  making her feel guilty about the children; using the children to relay messages; using visitation to harass her; threatening to take the children away

  • As Rey and Kylo Ren don’t have any children, nor do children factor prominently in the narrative in any way, there are no examples of these behavior in the films.

7)  Using Male Privilege – treating her like a servant; making all the big decisions; acting like the “master of the castle”; being the one to define men’s and women’s roles

  • When Kylo Ren belittles Rey’s parents and background, as well as when he assumes the mantle of Supreme Leader in The Last Jedi and asks Rey to join him, you could read that as his taking on the “master” role and treating her as being beneath him but, by and large, this one isn’t clearly illustrated in the films.

8)  Using Economic Abuse – preventing her from getting or keeping a job; making her ask for money; giving her an allowance; taking her money; not letting her know about or have access to family income

  • As Rey and Kylo Ren haven’t been in a cohabitating relationship in the films, nor do Resistance fighter and would-be Jedi or First Order commander lend themselves to traditional monetary jobs, there are no examples of these behaviors in the films.

To be clear, the meaning of all these moments shifts dramatically based on how we see Kylo Ren and his relationship with Rey.  If Kylo Ren is read as the villain of these films, Rey’s adversary, then all of this behavior makes sense.  It helps make him a truly frightening monster.  Controlling, lashing out, trying to break and destroy her – this is what villains do.  He’s an aspiring Sith Lord after all.  But if we read a romantic relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren when we watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, these actions clearly make it an abusive one.  While the emotionally abusive nature of this relationship is often discussed in light of The Last Jedi, when we add The Force Awakens to the conversation we see it’s a physically abusive one too.  There is no way around this.

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Rey and Kylo Ren duel on Starkiller Base. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

Yes, Star Wars is fiction and yes, it’s a fantasy/sci-fi story.  We can’t travel through hyperspace in real life nor can I move things with my mind, no matter how hard I try to unlearn what I have learned.  So there are things in Star Wars that are fictionalized but the fundamental nature of human relations is not one of those things.  It can’t be.  If we are to throw out the truth of human relationships when we watch Star Wars, the story not only becomes useless to us as viewers but incomprehensible.  Fiction can’t and doesn’t work like that.  We have to be able to understand what the natural relationships between the characters are for us to understand and connect to the characters themselves and the narrative as a whole.  So, if a relationship depicted in a Star Wars movie would be abusive in real life, it’s abusive in the Star Wars Universe too.

As a result of this basic and fundamental nature of fictional storytelling, any romantic relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren would have to be categorized as an abusive (and thus unhealthy and dangerous) relationship as illustrated by the behaviors we see in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

But what then, of “Rendemption”?  And how, if at all, does Rey factor into any possible redemption of Ben Solo?

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Rey and Kylo Ren have a shared vision through the Force while she trains on Ahch-To. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

David J. Livingston’s text Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities offers insight on this issue.  In the text Livingston, drawing on his work with domestic batterers, examines how the Christian church should respond to these men while honoring both the church’s call to forgiveness and responsibility.  If we really want Kylo Ren to be redeemed, these are the questions we must ask.  How do we authentically forgive a man who butchered an entire village on Jakku, casually watched the Hosnian Prime system burn, killed his father in cold blood, sought to do the same to his uncle, and treated Rey as we see above while also being responsible with the reality of those actions?

Livingston uses Thomas Aquinas’ four part approach to reconciliation – Contrition, Confession, Satisfaction, and Absolution – as the model for how the church should address the reality of domestic violence and abusers.[5]  He underscores it’s not about continual punishment of the abuser nor a constant reminder of their sin.  Rather, the church must find ways to help them see themselves as someone who is worthy of love and who is respected and cherished by the community they are a part of.[6]  The abuser must feel love and acceptance before they can begin to let go of their need to control others.[7]  So, community and their response to the violent man is important.

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Kylo Ren struggles with the pull of the Light Side and his desire to “finish what [his grandfather] started.” / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

But it’s not just a matter of forgiving his crimes.  We make a dangerously unhealthy move when we presume forgiving and forgetting can happen.  Significant research has shown us there’s no definitive cure for violent behaviors.[8]  So given what we know of Kylo Ren’s actions, it can’t be a matter of him feeling bad in the moment and turning on the First Order, everyone forgiving him, and his going off into the sunset as Ben Solo reborn.  Human psychology and human behavior don’t work this way.  This is why for “Rendemption” to happen true reconciliation is necessary.  Speaking of his time working with domestic batterers, Livingston writes,

Yet herein lies one of the most difficult aspects of working in this field: we must not fall into the trap of seeking forgiveness.  Setting forgiveness as our goal too easily drags us back into a situation where we lose sight of the cycle of violence and the danger to the battered partner.  Reconciliation is the first step, and it must be viewed as enough; for if the woman or the man senses that the real expectation is reunion, we have not learned the [true nature of reconciliation], and we miss the depth of the problem we have been struggling with throughout this book.[9]

Livingston explains, “Reconciliation is distinct from forgiveness because it involves more than forgiveness and is a communal rather than an individual phenomenon.  Reconciliation has its linguistic roots in re-con-ciliation, that is, rejoining the concilium or community.”[10]  Leading the First Order as Kylo Ren did, a terrorist organization bent on conquering the galaxy, the entire community must be part of any redemption for Kylo Ren.  His sins did not exist in a vacuum.  The entire galaxy, including Rey, were harmed by what he did.  So it is not just forgiveness he needs but a way back into the community.  The community’s job then is to offer sincere love to the abuser while also holding them accountable for their actions.  Both parts must be present.  They must help the batterer list actions to satisfy justice and then to help the batterer be certain to take those actions.  The love is important – vital – but it cannot be divorced from complete acknowledgement of and justice for what they’ve done wrong.[11]  Kylo Ren must face justice for all his crimes if he is to have a chance of being redeemed.  One lightsaber fight alongside Rey and against the Emperor isn’t justice.

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Rey meets Kylo Ren for the first time on Takodana. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

Again, Aquinas’ model calls for contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution.  For true contrition to happen, the abuser must authentically feel grief (compassion for the victim and sorrow at their actions), detestation (a deep disgust at their actions/the sin itself), and intention (actively and intentionally working to right what they’ve done wrong).[12]  There is an important difference too, between contrition anchored in avoiding punishment and sincere contrition anchored in a repentant heart and love of God.[13]  Sincere contrition leads then to confession.[14]

Livingston explains, “Authentic reconciliation requires a communal expression of contrition and a communal confession.  It also involves satisfaction appropriate to the nature of the violation…Without a group or community to which the man can be held accountable, the sorrow of contrition will soon transform into indignation, anger, desire for control, and further abuse.”[15]  Within the context of Kylo Ren’s journey, this means there is no single “I’m sorry” moment and he rides off into the sunset a hero.  If Ben Solo is to return, if real redemption is to change Kylo Ren, it must be a lifelong process.  The need for justice must be satisfied and this is a continual process.  True confession then leads to satisfaction.  “Satisfaction must first focus on the healing and care of the victims.  Second, satisfaction must focus on the need for the perpetrator to learn how to connect intimately to others.  The community can come to know whether the confession is genuine by whether the batter is being fully accountable for his behavior.”[16]

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Kylo Ren burns his way through a village with the First Order’s forces in the hunt for Lor San Tekka on Jakku. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

What does this look like for Kylo Ren?  How is he held accountable for the murderous acts he’s committed across the galaxy in the name of the First Order?  How is he held accountable in a way that still lets him know he is a being worthy of love and there is a path to acceptance within the community he’s wronged so unspeakably?  Specific answers, I believe, are beyond the scope of this already lengthy piece.  But suffice to say there’s no third act action The Rise Of Skywalker can include that sufficiently does this.

Satisfaction then leads to absolution and this movement is so, so important to understand in regard to Kylo Ren and what we should hope for if we want to see him redeemed in The Rise Of Skywalker.  “Absolution does not mean that one could forget about the violation or that one had relinquished all responsibility for satisfaction of the debt owed…Yet this love, which embraces the penitent for eternity, requires that they penitent live a life of ongoing conversion.”[17]  So there is no single action that opens the door to Ben Solo becoming a hero of the Resistance and a healthy and safe lover for Rey.  There is no one act that lets him off the hook for a clean happily-ever-after.  It can only be a lifelong process of repentance, conversion and atonement for Ben if we want to see him truly redeemed.

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Rey and Kylo Ren battle Snoke’s guards in his throne room after Ren murders the Supreme Leader. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

But what of Rey and Kylo Ren?  If we really want Ben Solo redeemed, if we really want healing and a chance at reintegrating into the community, then it almost certainly means “Reylo” can’t happen.  When looking at domestic batterers and the idea of true reconciliation, we must always keep one idea foremost in our minds.  The goal is not reunion but the healing of all parties involved.[18]  Those are two very different things.  Most pro-“Reylo” posts or pieces I see are clear in their desire to see Rey and Kylo Ren together but there’s little-to-no discussion of actual healing, repentance, and conversion for Kylo Ren let alone healing for Rey, after what she’s suffered at the hands of Kylo Ren.  They desire a couple, not a broken man made whole again.

Livingston raises the point that Christianity often faulters in helping victims of domestic abuse by holding tight to a mindset that all marriages must remain unbroken and reunion is always the “right” thing in any situation.[19]  Are we willing to let go of the unhealthy and dangerous model of “Reylo” in the name of some sort of true reconciliation for Ben Solo?  That’s a question “Reylo” fans must ask.  Do we truly care about Ben Skywalker and Rey as characters or do we just want to see smoochin’ between characters played by two actors we find attractive as the credits roll?

When we look at any feelings we may read into Rey’s connection to Kylo Ren, Lenore Walker’s classic 1979 text, The Battered Woman, may be illuminating.  In her work, Walker describes the three stages of the cycle of violence.  Stage One is the Tension-Building Phase; Stage Two, the Acute Battering Phase; and Stage Three, the Loving-Contrition Phase and Desire for Reconciliation.[20]  If we read Rey and Kylo Ren as a romantic relationship, much of the “love” fans point to in The Last Jedi are examples of Walker’s third stage.  In this stage the man is charming and manipulative.  He convinces everyone (as evident not just by Rey’s approach to Kylo Ren but by so many fans overlooking the dangerous reality of this relationship when read romantically).  The woman wants to believe him and even convinces herself she can.  She ends up feeling responsible for him.  And he plays dependent – he needs her and will fall apart without her.[21]  Within this context, the attraction and interest we (may) see Rey demonstrate towards Kylo Ren can be an example of traumatic bonding or, “the strong emotional ties between two persons, with one person intermittently harassing, beating, threatening, abusing, or intimidating the other.”[22]

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Rey seeks the truth of who she is in the caves under Ahch-To. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

I’m not arguing this is what we see between Rey and Kylo Ren.  As with the question of Kylo Ren exclusively being our villain or a potential romantic partner, what we see in the films changes based on how we read it.  So if there is a romantic connection clearly drawn between Rey and Ren, then this could be part of what’s going on with Rey’s connection to him.  She certainly experienced more than her fair share of trauma since leaving Jakku with Finn and BB-8, even outside of all her interactions with Kylo Ren.  And regardless of the question of romantic feelings it is clear she wants to believe and convinces herself Kylo Ren will turn back to the Light Side.

Tying these two threads together again, if we want Kylo Ren redeemed and absolved, then he shouldn’t have a romantic relationship with Rey.  It’s not healthy or safe for either character.  Hoping for such a relationship is grounded in a skewed sense of absolution.  It’s not a one time thing.  Kylo Ren can’t have a quick change of heart, help defeat the Emperor, save the Resistance, and everything is now fine.  “Absolution is a communal, not simply an individual, process that occurs over time.  In a relational universe, absolution that attempts to forget about the past is irresponsible.”[23]  So no matter what happens, if we really want Kylo Ren to be redeemed, we can never forget about what he’s done.  And part of what he’s done is, by definition, an abusive relationship with Rey.  He must live his whole life atoning for it.  To quote Livingston,

An appropriate analogy may be that of an alcoholic.  Some alcoholics are strong enough and have a supportive enough community that they can go to a party where alcohol is being served and not drink any alcohol.  Others cannot be around alcohol, or they will risk falling back into a self-destructive pattern of behavior.  A batter can enter back into a relationship, but he needs the support of a community that believes in him and respects him as a person, and as someone who can be a good partner and a good father, while at the same time he needs a community that holds him accountable and will advocate for the safety of the women and children in his life over the security of his reputation in any situation of further violence.[24]

Kylo Ren reentering the community is an if not a when.  It can happen but it can only happen with a commitment to a lifelong process of conversion.  Within this framework a domestic batterer can participate in a loving, caring, committed relationship.  But that can only happen with a commitment to a lifetime of therapy and working to control his violent tendencies alongside a community willing to love and support him, while holding him accountable for his crimes.  But just as AA teaches recovering alcoholics to avoid the people they used to drink with and the places they used to go to drink, so too should Ben Solo steer clear of a romantic relationship with Rey, which could serve as a trigger for his abusive behavior given how he treated her as Kylo Ren.  Rey can absolutely be a part of Ren’s potential redemption.  That could be a powerful, beautiful story.  But Rey and Ben Solo would always be a dangerous romantic couple, dangerous for Rey as well as for Ben’s sincere redemption.

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Rey prepares to do…something (maybe help redeem Kylo Ren? we don’t know yet). / Photo Credit – The Rise Of Skywalker (provided this scene from the trailer makes it in the final film)

“Reylo” then is not only an unhealthy model of a relationship for those watching the film but it’s also dangerous for the characters we, as Star Wars fans, care about.  “Reylo” would threaten to undermine any “Rendemption.”

Obviously, I have no idea what will happen in The Rise Of Skywalker.  I don’t know how J.J. Abrams will bring Disney’s part of the Skywalker Saga to a close.  But it is clear, “Reylo” can’t ever be more than a dangerous example of a romantic relationship, like Twilight before it.[25]  If we love Rey as a character, we should wish more for her and we should certainly hope her example as a model for young girls isn’t tarnished with a narrative that offers faux-justification for dangerous behaviors in romantic relationships.  And if we really care about Ben Solo, if we really want “Rendemption” to happen, we need to wish for him a loving, supportive community who will make certain he continually seeks satisfaction for his crimes, not a cliché kiss as the credits roll.

For more information on abusive relationships or if you’re in need of help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or by clicking here at thehotline.org.

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Rey and Kylo Ren in what appears to be the ruins of the Emperor’s throne room on the second Death Star. / Photo Credit – The Rise Of Skywalker (again, presumably)

 

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[1] “What Is Domestic Violence?,” National Domestic Violence Hotline.  Accessed October 25, 2019.  https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

[2] “Wheels,” Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs: Home of The Duluth Model.  Accessed October 25, 2019.  https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/

[3] “What Is Domestic Violence?”

[4] David J. Livingston, Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 19.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Ibid., 85

[7] Ibid, 86.

[8] Erin Stone, “Can Domestic Abusers Be Cured? Court-ordered treatment programs are meant to reform violent men.  It’s not clear if they’re working,” Mother Jones, Published May/June 2019.  Accessed December 4, 2019.  https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2019/05/batterer-intervention-programs-domestic-violence-treatment/

[9] Livingston, 92-3.

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Ibid., 88.

[12] Ibid., 70.

[13] Ibid., 70-1.

[14] Ibid., 74.

[15] Ibid., 74.

[16] Ibid., 77.

[17] Ibid., 78.

[18] Ibid., 81.

[19] Ibid., 59.

[20] Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman. (New York: Springer, 1979), 55-70.

[21] Livingston, 13-4.

[22] Ibid., 19.

[23] Ibid., 79.

[24] Ibid., 92.

[25] Wind Goodfriend, “Relationship Violence in ‘Twilight’: How ‘Twilight’ teaches teens to love abusive relationships,’ Psychology Today, Published November 9, 2011.  Accessed December 5, 2019.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201111/relationship-violence-in-twilight

9 thoughts on “Reylo’s Role in Rendemption – A The Rise of Skywalker Reflection

    1. Thank you so much! This piece took a long time to research and then draw together (far more time than it took me to come up with the idea in my head XD) so your kind words really mean a lot. I really appreciate them.

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  1. Wow. What a fascinating read. I am extremely excited to see the movie in a few short weeks and this has certainly given me a bit more to think about going into it. While I always hoped for a redemption for Kylo Ren, I guess I always hoped it would be in part due to Leia and not Rey. Yes, Rey and Kylo have some kind of connection that no one truly understands yet, but I thought that ultimately, Leia would be the last shove to the other side if that makes any sense. His relationship with his mother is absolutely complicated, with her being his link to Darth Vader, while also being the driving force against him. I think ultimately she would be the one to convince him that Anakin could be redeemed, and that could be true for him as well. But like you stated, I am absolutely one of those people who hope for a happy ending (though I don’t always believe that to be the one where people end up together).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! This was one of those pieces that seemed very clear in my head and then took a looooong time to research and try to pull together. So I really appreciate the kind words. Your saying it gave you “a bit more to think about going into it” is probably the highest compliment I could get! Thank you :).

      I’m with you all the way on Leia. I bet that was their original idea. I remember around the time of TLJ reading somethine to the effect of TFA was to be Han’s swan song, TLJ was for Luke, and TROS was to focus on Leia. Obviously now we can’t have that and I’m not sure how they’ll go about changing that (at least I’m not sure for a week or so anyway (it’s almost here!)). But I think Leia being the major player in Ben’s redemption would have been such a powerful story.

      It would have been a necessary one too, as Star Wars is so often focused on the father relationship. Anakin sees Obi-Wan as his father figure. Luke first seeks his father and then works to redeem him. Ben is frustrated by and resentful of his father and his uncle. Rey looks first to Han and then to Luke as surrogate father figures. We had Shmi but I’ve always felt she was ushered out of the narrative too quickly. She’s so important! She’s the one who gives birth to Anakin! The Force chose her to carry the Chosen One! And I think, not just in the story but by much of the Star Wars fandom, she’s often overlooked. So Leia being the one to help redeem Kylo Ren – showing him, as you so beautifully framed it, the truth about Anakin – would have been a welcome addition to the Star Wars story. It also would have provided a poetic balance to the narrative. In that vein, the “Skywalker Saga” would begin with Shmi and Anakin and then end with Leia and Ben,

      But, alas, we won’t have it, at least not that directly. I guess we’ll just have to try to be patient as we wait to see what happens…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo- your well written and researched post is exactly why there should never be a Kylo and Ren romantic relationship! Seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness is not and should not be a one-time conversation or deed. Considering many young viewers will be watching this movie, it is so important that a toxic and abusive relationship not be romanticized for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nancy! I appreciate the kind words as a lot went into this post. And the point of young viewers watching is SO IMPORTANT. If Ben is redeemed, that can be a powerful message for younger viewers to see. Just as Rey can be a powerful role model. But the romance pollutes the whole thing. In that pollution it offers a deeply unhealthy model for a romantic relationship as well as how someone is “saved.”

      I have a fair amount of faith J.J. won’t go in that direction, given the tone of TFA and the way he characterized Rey. But I’m still worried about it :/. My fingers are crossed and I’m holding my breath until I can see it and know for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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